As many years as I’ve been coming to Japan, there are experiences to be had here that can only happen with the help of caring friends who have contacts and relationships that open doors that are not available to the casual visitor.
When our friend Masa invited us to spend the day with him at Daitokuji Temple, I had no idea how memorable a day it would be. Masa, who is from Kyoto, had arranged the meeting for us, as a part of our day at Daitokuji. We were to meet the Abbot of the Zui-ho-in Temple, a sub temple of Daitokuji, to participate in a short tea ceremony the abbot would lead for us .
The visit of Zuiho-in starts with its front garden. To reach the builds from the front gate one has to turn three times, a design that helps the visitor to distance herself between the busy outside world and the quietness of the temple itself.
Spending time with the Abbot was one of those experiences I would have liked to have been able to record. It was one of those experiences when my mind kept repeating to me, “This is amazing. Pay attention!”
We entered the small humble tea room together, the abbot in his distinguished white flowing robes, his presence glowing, his eyes knowing all. A small arrangement of the season’s first camellia blossoms and a scroll painting of autumn chrysanthemums on the tokonoma were the only decorative element in the room.
Masa introduced us. My husband and I sat on stools as the Abbot, at age 77, effortlessly lowered himself to the tatami mat. He asked us a few questions about us, his eyes seeming to look into our very souls. Then he began to speak to us about the importance of breathing practice every day, performed first thing in the morning and before eating. He gave us a demonstration , as he recited the heart sutra in sanskrit on each exhalation. His deep baritone voice sounded as if it arose from deep in the earth. I sat spellbound.
I’ve been flirting with the thought of doing breathing exercises for months, but haven’t been consistent. I felt as if the Abbot knew that and chose to speak about its importance for this reason. It was a message and demonstration I needed to witness.
My friend shared with the Abbot that I’ve been coming to Japan for many years. He told me that my karma for Japan should allow me to go deeply into the culture of tea ceremony or other Japanese cultural practice. I felt grateful for that acknowledgement.
Masa patiently talked us through the ritual of tea ceremony, which I needed, although I’d participated in a longer tea ceremony a few times years ago. It is a ritual of exquisite etiquette. When to bow, when to drink, when to acknowledge the tea master, how to admire the beauty of the tea bowl, etc. It was over in just a few minutes, but to be in that space in those moments was an intense experience, a lifetime in a thimble.
” wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful! and yet again wonderful.” D.T. Suzuki
Thank you, Masa-san for making these arrangements for us and for sharing the wonders of Daitokuji with us!